Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride

Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride

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by Alyssa Harad
     
 

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A sudden love affair with fragrance leads to sensual awakening, self-transformation, and an unexpected homecoming

At thirty-six—earnest, bookish, terminally shopping averse—Alyssa Harad thinks she knows herself. Then one day she stumbles on a perfume review blog and, surprised by her seduction by such a girly extravagance, she reads in

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Overview

A sudden love affair with fragrance leads to sensual awakening, self-transformation, and an unexpected homecoming

At thirty-six—earnest, bookish, terminally shopping averse—Alyssa Harad thinks she knows herself. Then one day she stumbles on a perfume review blog and, surprised by her seduction by such a girly extravagance, she reads in secret. But one trip to the mall and several dozen perfume samples later, she is happily obsessed with the seductive underworld of scent and the brilliant, quirky people she meets there. If only she could put off planning her wedding a little longer. . . .

Thus begins a life-changing journey that takes Harad from a private perfume laboratory in Austin, Texas, to the glamorous fragrance showrooms of New York City and a homecoming in Boise, Idaho, with the women who watched her grow up. With warmth and humor, Harad traces the way her unexpected passion helps her open new frontiers and reclaim traditions she had rejected. Full of lush description, this intimate memoir celebrates the many ways there are to come to our senses.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The age of 36 was a watershed year for Harad: after earning her Ph.D. in English she found herself adrift, no longer wanting the busy life she’d created, longing to be a writer but unsure how to go about it. While avoiding work on a freelance project, she Web surfed to a perfume blog, and everything changed. She became hooked on the writers’ paeans to scent, and although her attraction to perfume contrasted with how she saw herself (“a serious, Birkenstock-wearing feminist”), she was unable to resist first taking a nervous trip to the mall to smell a featured scent and, as her fascination grew, immersing herself in the real-world community of perfume devotees. She fulfills her new thirst for knowledge through travel and study; she joins a local perfume salon in Austin, Tex., ventures into the perfume sections of Bergdorf’s and Barney’s in Manhattan, and, no longer able to contain her enthusiasm, charms everyone—with stories, recommendations, and delight—at her perfume-themed bridal shower in Boise, Idaho. This memoir is lovely and evocative, as Harad becomes more comfortable with herself and her open appreciation for things, like perfume, that are about beauty and pleasure. An appendix will help converts stock their own perfume closets. (June)
Kirkus Reviews
A charming memoir about how a woman's "torrid affair" with perfume changed her life. Harad was a "serious, Birkenstock-wearing feminist" in her mid 30s when she fell helplessly in love with perfume. Her passion manifested after a personal rebellion against the "busyness" she had created for herself in lieu of an academic career she didn't want. Online perfume blogs became her gateway to an exciting and seductively alien world. Embarrassed by the apparent frivolity of her interests, Harad hid a growing collection of perfume samples in her closet. But the more deeply she became involved with her "secret lovers," the more she began to open up to life. It began with her nose: She refined her sense of smell to the point where she developed a "private internal vocabulary of smell," which derived from her own storehouse of half-forgotten memories. As she learned to put perfume scents into words and understand the complex ways in which perfumes unfold upon the skin, her desire to experience other scents grew. She sought out other scent-lovers, a journey that led her first to a fragrance laboratory in Austin, Texas, and then to exclusive perfume showrooms in New York. But most surprisingly of all, Harad found herself reclaiming a femininity that she had disowned and wanting to be a bride. All her reasons--"some political and idealistic, others personal and idiosyncratic"--for not wanting to marry her partner of 10 years fell by the wayside. Like a good perfume, this book is slow to unfold, but the author's account of her experiences is well worth the wait. A quiet delight.
From the Publisher
 
“Harad recounts her Kate Chopin-like awakening to the sensual joys of perfume and the fulfillment, happiness and fragrant friendships that follow.”

—Denise Hamilton, Los Angeles Times

 
“Bursting with sensuous delights . . . Throughout the book, Harad manages to pull off word sorcery, layering one scented note of description atop another, until the reader is afloat in a sea of sensations ranging from louche to pristine. One is ridiculously tempted to put one’s nose to the printed page and sniff, as if the paper might somehow carry the scents that would complete the experience of reading about perfumes. . . . Harad was fortunate: Her accidental discovery of perfume helped make her less shy, more confident in herself. It also helped her become a beautiful, happy bride and a better writer. What greater magic could any woman ask?”

Dallas News

 
“This is a book that arouses and galvanizes the senses—all of them. . . . The very word puts a lot of us on edge—perfume—but turns out it’s just the elbow crook inching open the door into Harad’s memoir, which is as much about her surprise at delighting in perfume’s history, community, and aromatic allures as it is about her own reckoning with what it means to be a woman. . . . For the reader, her pleasure is catching.”

Austin Chronicle  

 
“Inspirational . . . Woodsy and seductive, with a hint of spice, Coming to My Senses offers a luscious immersion in the world of perfume obsession. But what makes this memoir so appealing are its deeper notes, the ones that linger on after reading: the story of a how a no-nonsense, underemployed English Ph.D., who usually dresses like 'an unmade bed,' discovers the pleasures of femininity and her own senses through an affair with fragrance.”

—Catherine Hollis, BookPage (Top Pick)  

 
“Harad charms everyone—with stories, recommendations, and delight. . . . This memoir is lovely and evocative, as she becomes more comfortable with herself and her open appreciation for things, like perfume, that are about beauty and pleasure.”

Publishers Weekly  

 
“A charming memoir about how a woman’s ‘torrid affair’ with perfume changed her life. . . . As Harad learned to put perfume scents into words and understand the complex ways in which perfumes unfold upon the skin, her desire to experience other scents grew. . . . But most surprisingly of all, Harad found herself reclaiming a femininity that she had disowned. . . . Like a good perfume, this book is slow to unfold, but the author’s account of her experiences is well worth the wait. A quiet delight.”

Kirkus Reviews

 
“Few delights match the instant, primal gratification given by a beautiful fragrance—yet too often we ignore the power of this sense. Alyssa Harad’s fascinating (and often funny) story of how she became bewitched by the pleasures and culture of perfume will give readers a new appreciation for scent's intimate role in their lives.”
—Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

 
“By turns witty, sensuous, and poignant, Coming to My Senses is a book that demands to be savored and shared. And I challenge anyone to read this without ransacking the dark corners of their closets and cosmetics bags for a scent to put on, and then another and then another…”
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches
 

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670023615
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Publication date:
07/05/2012
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
5.86(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.96(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Didn’t anyone tell Alyssa Harad that scent resists translation into words? In this elegant and witty memoir, she turns aroma into prose so naturally they seem like a single form of expression. I was delighted to find in one clear-eyed book a convincing romance, a novelistic parade of quirky characters, and a lyrical ode to the mysterious thrill of being alive.” —Michael Sims, author of Adam’s Navel and The Story of Charlotte’s Web

Meet the Author

Alyssa Harad grew up in Boise, Idaho. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard and a PhD in English from the University of Texas. Her writing has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine and the perfume blogs Now Smell This and Perfume-Smellin’ Things. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband.

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